Transfer of Learning | Types & Benefits

Transfer of Learning | Types & Benefits

Think back to the last time you had to solve a math equation, decipher a pattern, or compose a piece of writing. None of us were born equipped with these skills; we learned them somewhere along the way. Yet, we apply these skills in our everyday lives when we calculate our change at the store, play games like Tetris, or simply craft a signature.

In learning a new skill or development, we aim to be able to use these skills in the real world. We measure a successful learning process by applying the knowledge gained from previous learning in our daily tasks. This is called Transfer of Learning.

What is Transfer of Learning?

Transfer of learning, or Learning Transfer, involves applying the knowledge, skills, and information learned in one context to another. Learning transfer is the process of moving from theoretical concepts to actual applications to assess the efficacy of learning. It is a retrieval practice that enables us to utilise past learning experiences in new situations or learning opportunities.

Transfer occurs when knowledge is used in a practical context, highlighting knowledge retention and information processing. While we typically see knowledge transfer in a school setting, we can also observe it in the workplace and VET where individuals use learned skills.

3 common types of transfer learning

Types of Transfer Learning

There are three common types of transfer learning that measure the knowledge an individual has gained from learning initiatives:

  • Positive Transfer – Positive transfer occurs when one learning situation facilitates another, often due to identical elements. For instance, skills in playing the piano can facilitate learning skills in other instruments as the learner already possesses knowledge of music theory, note reading, and more.
  • Negative Transfer – Negative transfer occurs when knowledge of one skill can hinder another. This happens when elements or information within two learning contexts conflict with each other, such as expertise in operating automatic transmission vehicles obstructs driving manual or stick shift vehicles.
  • Neutral Transfer – Neutral transfer, or Zero Transfer, occurs when one learning context does not affect another. For example, knowing how to cook does not facilitate or impede learning how to swim.

In addition to the three types of learning transfer, two categories define the ease of transfering tasks and skills based on the specific learning context: near transfer and far transfer.

  • Near Transfer – Near transfer happens when existing knowledge in one context can be applied to another due to identical or related elements. We can see this in the workplace, where employees who use Google Sheets can easily learn Microsoft Excel formulas as both applications have identical elements.
  • Far Transfer – Far transfer involves applying learned skills in dissimilar contexts, which poses challenges as individuals must adapt principles and judgment learned in one context to a completely different one. For instance, an employee skilled in office spreadsheet work might use organizational abilities for camping, yet navigation and survival skills differ greatly due to context variations.

Benefits of Learning Transfer in the Workplace

There are numerous benefits of learning transfer, but the most crucial comprehending the learning material. In the workplace, learning transfer determines skilled and efficient workers, which impacts the organisation positively. Other common advantages of efficient transfer of learning include:

Improved Performance

By measuring how well an individual grasped the learning material, we can identify the areas of improvement, determine the effectiveness of learning modules, and find solutions to any transfer gaps. Learning transfer also helps evaluators assess the knowledge and expertise of workers based on training material and can provide feedback for cycled learning and improvement.

Enhanced Problem-Solving

Transfer of learning develops complex skills such as problem-solving and decision-making, which are strong components for analogical transfer. Learners can transfer knowledge despite changes in the critical attributes of a situation. This encourages them to apply what they learned in a completely distinct transfer context.

Versatility and Adaptability

With both improved performance and complex problem-solving skills, learning transfer enables individuals to be versatile and adaptable as they hone their critical thinking skills to be able to apply their knowledge and skills to different transfer tasks.

Identifying Transferable Skills and Knowledge

Knowledge transfer can evaluate the effectiveness of workplace training programmes. The efficacy of learning transfer can measure whether the knowledge and skills learned during training will be repeated at work.

Organisations can enhance knowledge transfer in the workplace by identifying the necessary skills for the job. This can be achieved through processes like skill mapping, exercises to recognise transferable skills, and ongoing learning modules that emphasise the abilities needed within the organisation.

  1. Skill Mapping – Skill mapping can help in matching training content with the specific skills required in the workplace. It involves analysing the different roles in an organisation to identify the skill gaps and developing the necessary skills through targeted learning modules. A skills matrix is often used during this process.
  2. Transferable Skill Identification Exercises – Transferable skill identification exercises help employees gain insight into the overall value of their training. Employees evaluate their skills and determine which skills can be used in different transfer contexts.
  3. Continuous Learning – Continuous learning goes beyond the initial learning stage. By fostering a learning environment that promotes ongoing learning, you can reinforce the value of retaining transferable skills in the workplace for professional development. Individuals can seamlessly integrate learned skills at work and even use the same skills in different contexts.

identifying transferable skills and knowledge for transfer learning

Learning Transfer Challenges: Applying Workplace Training to Real-world Scenarios

Transfer Gap

Even after concluding training, employees may face challenges in applying the learned material in the workplace. This is called the transfer gap and it often stems from issues with the training content, which is due to inadequate training design.

To prevent the transfer gap, organisations must design and customise training programmes that facilitate effective knowledge transfer. This can be done by adapting the programme to include situational practices, case studies, and hands-on training.

Contextual Relevance

Learning conflicting concepts can hinder employees’ knowledge retention and transfer, which is why organisations need to stick to contextually relevant training content that directly relates to the skills needed for the role.

Knowledge Retention

Challenges with learning transfer can originate from difficulties in processing information as individuals struggle to grasp the content presented to them, leading to poor knowledge retention. Efficient knowledge transfer means that employees understood the training content well, and can apply them in real-life scenarios.

To enhance knowledge retention, organisations can optimise their training courses to adapt to their workers’ learning styles and conduct routine assessments to ensure that workers retain the material.

Next read: The Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve provides more insight into knowledge retention.

Inadequate Training Design

Inadequate training design fails to engage employees to learn, leading to inefficiency. Training initiatives that lack simulations, practical application, and other hands-on learning experiences can hinder learning transfer. To prevent this, organisations must carefully consider the optimisation of their training modules.

Organisations can create effective training designs aligned with their skill requirements and the learning styles of their employees. This can involve enlisting the expertise of industry professionals, leveraging software tools, or conducting surveys to determine the ideal employee training method.

Read more on How to Accommodate Different Learning Styles in the Workplace

How to Design Training Programs for Effective Transfer of Learning

Active Learning Strategies

Integrating active learning strategies in the training content can facilitate improved transfer of learning as employees engage with the material. Some common active learning strategies used in training and development include:

  • Group discussions
  • Problem-solving activities
  • Brainstorming sessions
  • Interactive presentations

Feedback and Reflection in the Training Process

Feedback and evaluations will encourage employees to do self-assessments on their performance and provide them with a guide to improve as they apply their newly-acquired knowledge and skills in practical situations.

Incorporating Practical Exercises and Simulations

Incorporating simulations, situational role-playing, mock interviews, and more will provide employees with near-actual experience, preparing them for similar challenges in the workplace. These will hone their decision-making and problem-solving skills in a controlled environment, offering hands-on experience without the risk.

employee reflecting during the training process

Assessments for Transfer of Learning: Evaluating Practical Application and Skill Mastery

While assessment tests can evaluate how much information an individual has retained from training, being able to apply the theories in different transfer contexts creates a better measure of their understanding of the training material. Evaluators must ensure that employees not only grasp the training content but can also seamlessly integrate it into their job roles.

Performance-based Assessments

Employees are provided with specific tasks or scenarios mimicking real-world situations that they might encounter on the job. This will help evaluators assess whether the employee is equipped to handle these challenges based on the training material learned.

Read more on the 8 Best Practices to Assess Employee Skills and Competencies

Workplace Simulations

Integrating everyday workplace simulations will help evaluators assess how well an employee can handle their day-to-day tasks. This is especially useful for workplaces that require a thorough understanding of daily operations, safety protocols, and other standard procedures.

Performance Metrics

Evaluators must establish well-defined performance metrics specific to the skills being assessed. This will enable them to properly review and provide feedback to employees while measuring their performance during actual workplace tasks.

Here’s how you can define the performance metrics for learning transfer:

how to define performance metrics with transfer of learning

How to Define Performance Metrics with Transfer of Learning

  1. Identify Training Objectives – Identify the targeted skills, information, or knowledge that employees are expected to gain after training completion.
  2. Define Measurable Indicators – Establish measurable indicators that an employee should exemplify as they progress through their job role.
  3. Set Performance Targets – Based on employee performance and the defined indicators, create realistic performance targets that employees are expected to achieve after applying the training content to real-world situations.
  4. Provide Feedback – Provide feedback for employees to do self-assessment, and guide them toward improving their performance.
  5. Continuously Improve Metrics – Keep the knowledge transfer continuously improving. Regular evaluations and assessments will foster improved performance, and keep metrics relevant to the needs of the organisation.

Heading for Successful Learning

Transfer of learning bridges the gap between theory and practice, fostering skills development, critical thinking, and knowledge-building. Knowledge transfer is crucial in the workplace, as it identifies the skills, learning abilities, and areas of improvement of workers. Overall, learning transfer is not the end of progress or development but is a stepping stone towards proficiency and growth.

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